By Lisa Shumaker and Maria Caspani
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Wisconsin and other states in the U.S. Midwest and beyond are battling surges in COVID-19 cases, with new infections and hospitalizations rising to record levels in an ominous sign of a nationwide resurgence as temperatures get colder.
Nine states, including Michigan and North Carolina, reported record one-day increases of new infections on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally. Michigan last set a record for new daily cases on April 3 in the early days of the pandemic in the United States.
The latest spate of record highs is in keeping with a trend during October, a month during which fully half of the 50 U.S. states have reported their highest daily increases in new cases.
In Wisconsin, new cases rose by 3,747 on Thursday, a fresh daily record. “Our numbers are high and they’re growing rapidly,” Wisconsin Health Secretary-Designee Andrea Palm said at a news conference.
In some regions, 90% of hospital intensive care unit beds in the state were in use. “We know that this is going to get worse before it gets better,” she said.
A field hospital that opened in a Milwaukee suburb in case the number of coronavirus patients overwhelms medical facilities had yet to receive any patients, she said. Neat rows of makeshift cubicles enclosing beds and medical supplies occupied the fairgrounds in West Allis, the home of the Wisconsin State Fair since the late 1800s.
Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, slammed a decision by a Wisconsin judge to temporarily block his order limiting the size of indoor gatherings in bars, restaurants and other businesses. Evers said his administration will challenge the judge’s decision, announced on Wednesday.
“We are at a critical point in the battle against this virus,” Evers said on Thursday. “And just because some folks out there want to see full bars and full hospitals, doesn’t mean we have to follow their lead.”
Since the start of October, North Dakota and South Dakota have reported more new COVID-19 cases per capita than all but one country in the world, tiny Andorra. The two Upper Midwest states are reporting three times as many new cases per capita this month than the United Kingdom, Spain or France, where infections were also on the rise, according to a Reuters analysis.
“It’s quite concerning,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases expert, said in an interview with ABC television. “We really got to double down on the fundamental public health measures that we talk about every single day because they can make a difference.”
Fauci also warned about the risks of crowded gatherings, as President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail after recovering from his own bout with the coronavirus.
Trump, making a push in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election after being hospitalized with COVID-19, held a large rally in Iowa on Wednesday with most in attendance not wearing masks.
He has continued to minimize the threat to public health posed by the virus that has killed more than 217,000 Americans.
COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a record high on Wednesday in Iowa as well, while the state also posted its biggest one-day increase in cases since Aug. 28.
New York, once the U.S. epicenter of the global health crisis, is now dealing with infection spikes in several “clusters.” Governor Andrew Cuomo said he expected flare-ups to continue for at least a year.
“The way of the world going forward is going to be that the virus will constantly flare up in certain locations,” Cuomo told reporters this week.
His efforts to stem local outbreaks of the coronavirus have put him in a two-front religious battle with Catholics and Jews, who are asking courts to void restrictions they argue limit religious freedom.
Cuomo, a Catholic, said the measures restricting gatherings at religious institutions to as few as 10 people in certain targeted areas, were not intended to single out religious groups and were consistent with other steps he has taken to combat “clusters” where infections spread rapidly.
But he also blamed Orthodox Jewish communities for causing some of the infection spikes in their areas.
An intensive care nurse at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City told Reuters on Thursday there are at least a dozen patients with the virus in critical care there, the majority of whom are Orthodox Jews.
The nurse, who asked not to be named because she was not authorized to speak to media, said there are about 50 patients with the virus in her hospital and that number is “increasing every day.”
Reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Peter Szekely and Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot.